Languages for me have a secret venom that every so often foams up and for which there is no antidote.
– Elena Ferrante
Let’s say—hypothetically—that someone has a funny looking bald head. Lumpy with wider rounding at the back than at the front. You assume this guy thinks he looks cool with a bald head because he shaves it himself and seems to have a chip on his shoulder. A chip so heavy it lowers his left shoulder by approximately one inch. Plus, he wears this leather motorcycle jacket (but doesn’t actually ride a motorcycle as far as you can tell). The little social judge in your head throws him immediately in the “douche” category. And you move on because that’s what you do. Who has time to get to know people, right?
And then later, let’s say 17 days after you’ve sentenced him to the loser/outcast section of your mind, you find out from a co-worker who takes smoke breaks with one of the Douche’s officemates that he’s bald because his hair never grew back after the chemo. You’ve got your poker face on but there’s a neon green sign of the word “DOUCHE” in your head with a blinking arrow pointing at a bad caricature of you. The following week you hear someone in the parking lot ask him where he got his leather. It was his brother’s. His brother who died during a second tour in Iraq. Your internal projection of yourself takes on homunculus proportions. You scurry to your car.
A week or so goes by without you seeing this man who you feel you’ve wronged. Misjudged. Then you and he are walking in to the building at the same time. You hold the door open for him. “Good morning!” you say. He sort of grunts. “You returning from business or pleasure?” you say. “Excuse me?!!” he says. Turns on you. Chest kind of puffed out. “I hadn’t seen you around the parking lot in a while,” you say. “Mind your own business, stranger.” He punctuates this with a kind of finger-pointing and walks away.
I got a new phone.
It asked me
if I wanted
to know what
I would be doing
into the future.
Top 10 List
I have 768
in four days.
snorting Red Dye 40
as an exercise
I called my
I learned that
not only is their
longer in service,
several years ago.
action I could
take to save
to kill myself.
I’d been putting off returning to the veterinary office to pick up a replacement memorial certificate and name plate for our dog (they reversed his name, Scotch, with our surname on the original materials). It’s a final administrative gesture. Perhaps that finality had me dragging my feet. A phone call reminder prompted me to just get on with it. Twelve minutes in the car, I pulled into the parking lot, took a deep breath to prepare for that sympathetic look with which the well-intentioned staff would smother me, and strode up to the door. It was locked. I just spoke with them 20 minutes ago—how could this be? The sign on the door: “Closed for lunch 1:30-2:00pm.” The time was 1:38pm. Do I wait? Do I try to maximize my time? Do I… ?
“Just take a walk.” An impatient voice in my head directs me. There’s a park across the street. The weather is overcast and edging on more rain. Strange utility poles jut up high into the grey skies. I’ll try and take some interesting photos. I’ll just pause and enjoy being outside. Like the dog would have. Explore. Sniff some things.
I cross Good Luck Road. In my head, I’m hearing that edging-on-lunacy laugh that erupts from Arya’s character in Game of Thrones when she arrives at her aunt’s castle hoping to find some family and safety after a long, dangerous escape only to be informed that her aunt died three days ago. I skipped lunch, which means every partially introspective or maudlin thought turns into a depressive, the-world-is-ending mental digression. I miss my dog. I wish he was here to piss on things. To talk to.
I seem to be expecting some sort of comfort in nature. A respite in this park. It’s a rough, gravel parking lot. Trash shrewn around the periphery. Locked gates prevent access to the grassy playing fields. The outdoors made uninviting. I take some photos of an electrical structure—a towering pole topped off with rectangular panels like a Brutalist/Cubist sculptural mash-up. I wander along the edge of the woods. My throat constricts as I come across a deer carcass. The head is turned back at close to an unnatural angle. The area where a white tail once was now devoured leaving a meaty window into the beast’s insides. Life is brutal. Or, rather, death prevails. Everything is wet, leafless, and steps away from winter. Solace. There is no solace. Am I being mocked by nature itself or has my blood sugar just dropped enough to turn everything into some sort of melancholic sign? I clench my jaw as if to bite down while swallowing the message: He’s gone.
I leave the park and walk along the shoulder of the busy road. It’s an unwelcoming road for a stroll. The shoulder is ample, but it’s not the type of road pedestrians frequent (no sidewalks). A single lane in each direction with cars whizzing by at 40 mph or so. Mostly, or so. I pass under a bridge. I considered the dog one of my closest friends. A good listener. Always curious. Excited upon my every return. A companion in the late hours of the night. A constant adversary in the struggle for territory in the “big bed.” I think about how Scotch approached the world. Enjoying the simple things: a meal, a nap, a walk. I’m taking myself for a walk. I explore with my eyes the way he would have explored with his nose. Fast food wrappers, barren shrubbery, a used condom. No solace. I should take myself for walks more often, I think to myself. I wish I had taken Scotch for more walks. I think about how I have no “bucket list.” There are endless things I want to do and experience, but nothing that makes me feel my life will not have been full or fulfilling should I miss it. It feels like I’ve been out here for at least an hour, but a glance at my phone when I get back to the parking lot reveals a mere 20 minutes passed.
The front door opens. A kind, familiar face greets me and I wait behind one other customer, a man trying to get an instant appointment for a friend’s sick cat who is minutes away from arriving separately. I ask for the memorial certificate—I look it over together with the woman at the front desk. All is correct. It means nothing to me, but I’m glad it’s correct. That it’s over. I’ll slide the envelope under the decorative box holding his cremated remains at home. I’ll try to live a little more like a dog. In the moment. But moments without him.
359,160 hours. That’s how long it’s taken me. An elliptical trip I keep repeating around the source of most everything. But I’m not steering this vessel. I’d be hard pressed to get off it even if I wanted to. Do I want to? Honestly, the time passes so quickly I’m not even counting. Each moment is supersaturated with mysteries I could spend a lifetime unraveling. If you peel the onion that is me, you’ll find nothing at the center. If I’m incinerated into ash, it will be the same ash left behind by a burnt log. What is this to you? What is this to me? I can’t say. I started off with the premise that this was all building toward something. To be neatly wrapped up by the shimmery bow of aggregate knowledge. But it’s an unraveling. Each successive picture snaps from behind a lens accumulating scratches and smudges. The order once held by these snapshots effaced by the slip of the hand, scattering the narrative across these well-worn floors. That’s my history now face-up/face-down. 359,160 hours.